Educating The Whole Child
By Rabbi Yeshaya Weber

What is the difference between chinuch and learning? Are they a package deal or can they be separated? How do you build a bridge between intellectual awareness and emotional awareness and why is it important to do so?


People commonly make a distinction between limud (learning) and chinuch (education). Learning is the channel that enables you to expand your intellect, develop your understanding, and enrich your store of concepts. Chinuch, on the other hand, is more connected to values. We are mechanech children to mitzvos, midos, and maasim tovim (good deeds). When we talk about learning, we don’t discuss chinuch, and when we’re involved in chinuch we don’t discuss limud.


The problem is that it just doesn’t work that way. If you want to succeed in the field of teaching, you cannot separate limud and chinuch. There’s a connection, or more precisely, a bridge that connects the domain of chinuch with the domain of limud.


The reason we separate chinuch from limud is, perhaps, due to the fact that learning is an intellectual activity, whereas chinuch is directed at the emotions. The truth, however, is that the intellect and the emotions operate in tandem and are symbiotic in nature.


When you want to explain to a small child, who still does not have all the tools needed for moral judgment, why a certain deed is a mitzva or is permissible while a different deed is forbidden or unnecessary, you have to address both the child’s intellect as well as his emotions. You must explain things to him so that he understands them to the point that they penetrate and impact on his emotions. If we direct ourselves to merely one domain, his understanding will be lacking, because the intellect and the emotions complement one another.


When we try to get a child to do what’s right by reaching out to his emotions, we have to check and see whether he also understands what we said on an intellectual level. If he didn’t get it, because all we said was, “You can’t do that!” or even, “Hashem doesn’t let!” without providing him with the means to logically comprehend what we said, then he will not internalize our message on an emotional level either. He’ll continue to fume, and to think, ‘Why can’t I do this? They just forbid things without giving a reason!’ But if we explain the prohibition in a way that can be understood rationally, the child will also absorb the message emotionally.


How do we explain why the teacher forbids something? We draw a parallel from something familiar to the child from his everyday life, and we say to him, “At home Tatte is the one in charge, right? How come? Because he’s the adult who looks after the family welfare. When Tatte says something is forbidden, we must accept it even if we don’t understand why it’s forbidden, because we know that we can rely on him. He seeks only our good.


“The same is true of your teacher. He is responsible for his students. He is the father of the class. The teacher is concerned about his students and seeks their welfare, so when he forbids something, the students must accept what he says regardless of whether they understand the reason. When they grow older, they will surely see that the teacher was right.”


You can also mention that, when learning Torah, what their teacher says is actually what Hashem commanded. The teacher is only showing his young students the way to serve Hashem.


When teaching a child, if we don’t address his intellect, he won’t really accept what we say. He listens to what the teacher says anyway because he has no other choice, but it’s not because it’s clear to him why the matter is forbidden; rather, it’s because at the moment, he is afraid of the teacher. The moment the fear goes away, the teacher’s command will dissipate. Then we miss our main objective, i.e., the chinuch of the child.


If, on the other hand, we explain to our children the instructions that we give them, then the instructions will be accepted and internalized by them, so that complying will have nothing to do with fear of the teacher but with the fact that Hashem has thus commanded us and we must always listen to Him. The result of this small investment is long-term, true, internalized chinuch. In addition, we manage to instill a very important value, that the teacher is someone to respect. He knows what’s he’s doing and why, and he is the one who establishes for the young child how to behave and what to do. That’s why it’s important not to say, “That’s the way it is and that’s the way it has to be!” Rather, we should say, “That’s what the teacher says and so that’s how it has to be.”


We need to apply this principle in other instances, as well. For example, when a small child hits another boy, our usual, spontaneous reaction is, “You’re not allowed to hit!” We say this without explaining to the child why it’s forbidden to hit. The intellectual understanding is missing and the child doesn’t understand why he cannot hit. That means that we did not successfully educate the child.


On the other hand, if we explain, “You shouldn’t hit him because it causes him pain, and we mustn’t cause another Jew pain,” the child understands why we told him not to hit. This understanding, that it is forbidden to cause another Jew pain, will remain with him. As he grows older, it will grow along with him. An older child will know that he may not cause another child harm, and later on he will grow to understand that this doesn’t only refer to physical damage but also to emotional damage, such as embarrassing someone. At an even older age he will come to understand that sneering at someone or hinting about someone in any other negative, potentially harmful way is forbidden.


We know many stories about gedolei Yisroel who were extremely careful not to cause pain to another Jew, and kept a great distance from even a suspicion of wrongdoing. How did they attain this level? By being educated at a very young age and internalizing the principle that we may not cause harm to another Jew.


When we teach, we also have to try to bridge the intellect and the emotions. We are accustomed to teaching very young children very lofty concepts: the story of Creation, the splitting of the sea etc. which are way beyond their intellect. If our intentions are to give them a nice vocabulary, to teach them how to speak properly, and to make them aware of certain concepts, the Chumash is certainly not the proper tool. There are excellent textbooks for just these purposes.


The main role of the Chumash is to train the G-dly soul within every Jew to understand lofty ideas and concepts. That is precisely what we do when we teach a young child the words of the Chumash, even when at this stage he doesn’t grasp the full significance of these concepts. Actually, there is no age at which we can say, “Now we can get down to fully understanding and grasping the Torah’s concepts.” As much as we think we understand, there will always remain levels that are higher than our limited intellect. Nevertheless, we continue learning the parshiyos of Chumash as holy work that is entirely about matters of the highest order.


We must teach a young child Chumash in the same manner that we ourselves learn Chumash. Our intention is not to use the Chumash as a tool for teaching proper sentence structure, or to enrich the child’s vocabulary. If we approach it in that way we won’t achieve the real aim, which is to help him progress to a higher, more spiritual way of thinking.


Through the words of the Chumash we inculcate in a child, step by step, lofty concepts of Judaism, the existence of Hashem and His oneness, Divine providence, emuna in the Creator of the world, etc. This is also the source of the custom of starting the child’s Chumash education with VaYikra, the most difficult of the Torah’s volumes. We want to, “let the pure ones come and be involved in taharos.” This strengthens our understanding that learning is not just an intellectual matter, but must also arouse the emotions.


You must explain things to the child so that he understands them to the point that they penetrate and impact on his emotions.




It’s important not to say, “That’s the way it is and that’s the way it has to be!” Rather, we should say, “That’s what the teacher says and so that’s how it has to be.”


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